How does Nigeria think and how will it respond to different domestic situations and events? The answers may dwell within our understanding of what the country’s political culture is. Political culture is a set of attitudes and practices long-held by a people that shapes their political behaviour. It is made up of moral judgments, political myths, beliefs and ideas about what makes a good society.
Political culture matters because it shapes a population’s political perceptions and actions. More than ephemeral attitudes toward specific issues which may be gathered through public opinion surveys, political culture is formed over long periods of time and it only undergoes remarkable changes very slowly and deliberately. As a result, with a good understanding of the political culture in a society, one could make good predictions on how that society, especially the citizenry, would respond to national issues.
In Nigeria, political culture is heavily marked by ethnic and religious sentiments built around elite patronage, and democracy. And this reaches a long way back into our history. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state that has not really crossed its internal ethno-religious boundaries. These boundaries are quite rigid and they have often been used by the ruling elite to strengthen their political positions as well as run the government.
Right from 1960, the sovereign Nigerian government looked for ways to work without treading on those sensitive parochial boundaries and the ‘solution’ was found in ‘regional governments’ that would take care of the three major categories of ethnic groups in the country. But this did not keep tensions under as political interaction at the highest levels of governance heavily relied on kinsman support. So, when an elite felt cheated, his kinsmen feel cheated and marginalised. Even the regional government system could not keep this ethnic rivalry within. I believe it could not because these systems were not designed to integrate the different ethnic groups but to reduce those contacts that could trigger violence. But people usually moved from one region to another and they formed communes wherever they found themselves. Frictions become inevitable. And the ruling elites did not always see eye to eye on resource distribution. Each one wanted to be a hero back ‘home’. The unfortunate results have been a bloody civil war that claimed no less than a million lives; more bloodshed through several ethno-religious conflicts and three decades of military rule that only worsened these internal tensions.
The long years military rule however achieved something, even though it was more of a side effect. The style of military rule ensured that these governments repressed certain fundamental rights, especially those of free press and free speech. These pressures however forced the Nigerian people across their several ethnic lines to cry out for democracy. These moments, especially under the Babangida and Abacha regimes were similar to the initial struggles that birthed Nigeria as a sovereign state free from colonial rule. The transition that the many sought was achieved in 1999.
As John Campbell notes, “although the 1999 transition marked the end of gross human rights abuses, Nigeria’s transition was halting from the beginning. Despite institutional changes, politics continued to be shaped by patronage, client relationships, and elite competition.’ These were the same trends that from 1960 that eventually bore the country down in several bloody incidents, including military coups. Campbell further tells that the elites in the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, being conscious of ethnic and religious divisions, reaffirmed the principle of zoning or presidential-candidate alternation. This arrangement persisted untill 2011 when the current president, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, took office when “it was still the North’s turn. Jonathan’s election victory precipitated the bloodiest post-electoral rioting since since independence in the predominantly Muslim northern states.”
Mr President, on October 1 2013, this year, announced his plan to convene a National Dialogue or Conference to address the many conflicts and issues within the country. If I were to advice the President, I would tell him not to be conscious of ethnic and religious divisions. Nigeria would never have been independent in 1960 if those national architects had glorified ethnic and religious divisions. Nigeria would never have made a successful transition to democracy if we had glorified these boundary lines. I believe it is time to put our feet down once again and talk as Nigerians and not members of different ethnic groups. Our political culture and history testify that glorifying ethnic differences is a sure path to chaos. But by glorifying ideas that cut across these lines, we could land another triumph.
Campbell, J (June 18, 2013). Nigeria, http://www.cfr.org/democratization/nigeria/p30819